What are we up to this Season?

Autumn Season – Watford, Hertfordshire

As we come to the end of the Autumn Season in Watford (Thursday classes still running up to 20th Dec, at the YMCA Orbital Community Centre, 8:30pm to 10:30 pm), we have one main event to run before Christmas.

Yuletide Milonga – Our 3rd Anniversary milonga

I am looking forward to hosting our Yuletide Milonga at the Watford YMCA Orbital Community Centre, which is on Sunday 23rd Dec between 5pm – 9pm, leaving you a whole day to do last minute Xmas shopping πŸ™‚ Please put the date in your diary. It may be the last chance to tango before Christmas!

Further details of the Yuletide Milonga can be found here.

Spring Season – Watford, Hertfordshire

In the New Year we are going to try something different in Watford for the Spring Season.

A Taste of Tango workshop – Watford

Beginners Workshop in Argentine TangoOn Thursday 10th Jan we are running our ‘A Taste of Tango’ workshop at the YMCA Orbital Community Centre, for one night only. If you haven’t yet experienced Argentine tango, now is the time to give it a go. πŸ™‚

This workshop is for new beginners who have never danced Argentine Tango before (or maybe not even danced before). This is a two hour workshop which will give you an introduction to some basic technique and musicality, plus some classic tango figures, so that hopefully by the end of the workshop you will be able to dance a simple tango.

Please note this is NOT a drop in session, so please book to guarantee entry (places are limited). Click here for more details about ‘A Taste of Tango’ Workshop in Watford and to book your place.

Ten Weeks To Tango – Watford

Couple dancing tango Ten Weeks to Tango version 3

Following the ‘A Taste of Tango’ Workshop, on Thursday 17th Jan, we will be running our ten week Argentine Tango course. This is a structured course (not a drop in set of classes) aimed at :-

  • beginners (never danced Argentine Tango before)
  • improvers (dancing Argentine Tango for up to 12 months)
  • tango dancers wanting to brush up on basic technique and musicality
  • leaders who want to follow (it’s fun to reverse roles!)
  • followers who want to lead (may help you get more dances…)

If you want to do the taster workshop in Watford first, to decide if you like tango, please do so but note; places on this course are limited and already being booked.

Or you could dive right into the wonderful world of this sophisticated, elegant dance and take the 10 week course. Click here for more details of the ‘Ten Weeks to Tango’ course in Watford and a booking form

Spring Season – Pinner, North London

A Taste of Tango workshop – Pinner

Beginners Workshop in Argentine TangoOn Saturday 5th Jan we are running our ‘A Taste of Tango’ workshop at the Church Hall, Pinner Parish Church (St John the Baptist), Church Lane. If you haven’t yet experienced Argentine tango, now is the time to give it a go. πŸ™‚

This workshop is for new beginners who have never danced Argentine Tango before. It lasts two hours and will give you an introduction to some basic technique and musicality, plus some classic tango figures, so that hopefully by the end of the workshop you will be able to dance a simple tango.

Please note this is NOT a drop in session, so please book to guarantee entry (places are limited). Click here for more details about ‘A Taste of Tango’ Workshop in Pinner and to book your place.

‘Ten Weeks to Tango’ – Pinner

After the success of our recent ten week course in Pinner, we are repeating this course, starting Saturday 12th January, same location as above.

Couple dancing tango Ten Weeks to Tango version 3

This is a structured course (not a drop in set of classes) aimed at :-

  • beginners (never danced Argentine Tango before)
  • improvers (dancing Argentine Tango for up to 12 months)
  • tango dancers wanting to brush up on basic technique and musicality
  • leaders who want to follow (it’s fun to reverse roles!)
  • followers who want to lead (may help you get more dances…)

If you want to do the taster workshop in Pinner first, to decide if you like tango, please do so but note; places on this course are limited.

Or, you could dive right into the wonderful world of this sophisticated, elegant dance and take the 10 week course. Click here for more details of the ‘Ten Weeks to Tango’ course in Pinner and a booking form

Ten More Weeks to Tango – Pinner

We are running an Improvers course called ‘Ten more weeks to tango‘ in Pinner. This starts on 12th January

This is a structured course (not a drop in set of classes) aimed at :-

  • Those people who have already taken the ‘Ten week to tango’ course.
  • Those new tango dancers having a minimum 3 months experience who want to continue improving technique, musicality, elegance of movement, and who want to learn some more advanced figures to flesh out their abilities.

This is NOT suitable for absolute beginners – see the above taster workshop or the Ten Week to Tango course as a more suitable alternative.

Click here for more details of the ‘Ten More Weeks to Tango’ course in Pinner and a booking form

Finally…

Towards the end of the 2019 Spring Season we are planning to run a Tango Vals workshop, and a Tango Milonga workshop. More details to come…

If you would like to receive myΒ  newsletter to keep up to date with any future events, courses, or other classes, please email me with the Subject line marked ‘subscribe’.

I look forward to seeing you soon

Steve

Baking a Tasty Tango

Picture of a bread maker as an analogy to 'baking a tango'As some of you know I bought myself a bread-maker as a Christmas present, and of course being a man I plunged ahead and started on the first inaugural loaf. I had all the ingredients (well apart from the odd substitute here and there). I had most of the tools required (or thought I did until I couldn’t find some of them), so I did what most blokes do – I bodged it, guessed it, and made it work (sort of). I mean how hard could it be with a machine that did the hard work? πŸ™‚

So what has this got to do with Argentine Tango? Well I learned a few things by doing something new which I’d never done before just as we all do with our tango adventures.

Make sure you have all the ingredients.

I did have all the ingredients for my loaf apart from one substitute.

In tango terms, to dance the tango well you need the right ingredients – some choreography, executed with good technique, in a fitting musical way, and in an Argentine Tango style. Some things can be substituted without reducing the yumminess of your tango. For example, choreography. You can use all sorts of different choreography to dance tango. Other things can’t be easily substituted without making your tango a bit less flavoursome, for example technique. Even the simplest of choreographic movements just look and feel better, and can be performed easier if you have good technique.

Make sure you have the correct tools

Straight off the bat while doing some basic pre-baking tasks I burned my thumb because… I didn’t have a proper oven glove and just used a thin dry tea-towel to pick up a hot tin. Ouch!

Also I could only find half my weighing scales (and not the measuring bit) so had to guess some of the major ingredients.

In Tango terms this might be any thing from lack of technique to lack of floor craft. For example with floor craft, maybe a leader starts a movement in a busy milonga and suddenly finds they’ve run out of room to complete the move, resulting in a collision.

Or a leader trying out newly learned figure in a milonga which they are not reasonably sure they can perform well. We all attend classes and learn new things, but do you want to immediately try it out in a milonga before you have practised enough to make sure you can lead or follow such a movement? My own rule of thumb is if I can’t be 90% confident of leading a movement with any dancer, then I don’t use it in a milonga, until I’ve practised it enough.

Performing the task correctly

With my first loaf I took longer than the instructions suggested to mix the flour and liquids, and almost forgot the last bit of milk to apply. Actually I didn’t forget. All the milk went in earlier in the process when only some of the milk should have gone in. I didn’t read the recipe properly! I put some more in when I realised I hadn’t saved a bit πŸ™‚

In tango terms an example might mean using floor-craft to make sure you have

  1. enough room to complete your intended movement without having to cut it short, by monitoring the couple in front of you and in front of them to make sure you pick up signals about potential blockage early, or
  2. a back up plan if you can’t complete a movement. Don’t try to complete a movement even when it’s totally obvious to all around that you don’t have room to do this without bumping another couple. If you commit to a movement, without respect for other dancers, you’re not dancing social tango.

Having patience for things to come together

So I finally had all the ingredients in my bread-maker and it was sloshing the mix around creating the dough prior to cooking. I stood and watched through the window in the top of the machine. It was like watching paint dry, but I couldn’t help coming back every 10 mins or so (in a 2 1/2 cooking cycle), just to see if anything interesting was happening. It wasn’t…

In Tango terms this could be the impatience we often get with our ‘lack of improvement’. We never seem to get ‘good’ quick enough! Learning takes time, and improvement may be imperceptible, but is nevertheless happening. Have patience with your own progress and keep learning and practising consistently.

I’m sure there are many more analogies one could draw between baking and tango (perhaps the tango bakers out there would like to suggest further ones? πŸ™‚ ) but as a start, if you follow some of the above guidance, you too could be baking a nice tasty tango for yourself πŸ™‚

Finally, I’m sure you’d all love to know what happened with the first ever loaf I baked? Was it Mmmmm… πŸ™‚ or Hmmm… :(? I’m happy to say that it was Mmmmm… in taste, much better than shop bought gluten-free bread. However, there was undoubtedly room for improvement, and yes I have bought some proper scales – no more guessing quantities (until I start experimenting with flavours πŸ™‚ )

Can you Learn Tango from Videos?

Behind the Scenes of Gone with the Wind. Rhett dances with Scarlett

As a tango teacher I occasionally come across people who are trying out ‘a move’ they’ve seen on {insert your favourite internet video service here}, or they ask me to teach them ‘that move where I do this and she does that. It’s on {insert your favourite internet… you get the idea}’.

Hmm… well for one thing, strangely enough I haven’t watched every tango video on the internet and committed them to memory. Maybe a task for later πŸ™‚

But also, where I have looked at tango videos, I’ve discovered quite a lot of stuff which is of variable quality as far as educational value is concerned. Some of it can be very good, but other ‘teaching’ videos can be quite bad from a learning point of view – they are really just marketing videos.

So to come back to the main question I would say my answer is a very heavily qualified yes. Here’s some qualification…

Choreography

Video is a reasonable medium for learning choreography, providing the dancers on the video know what they are doing and perform a movement well.

However, you need good production quality to make sure the camera picks up all the nuances such as, for example, where leaders/followers feet are in relation to each other. I’m not just taking about HD vs standard resolution here. I’m talking about camera angles, lighting, even down to the clothing the dancers wear, and so on. I once took a video on my not so brilliant camera phone of a couple of teachers demonstrating what had just been taught in the class. The lighting wasn’t brilliant and both of them had dark flared trousers on which totally obscured the choreography when displayed on a 2 dimensional screen. If I hadn’t been at the class the video wouldn’t have been much use to me.

Leading and Following

Understanding how a figure is led or followed is a whole lot more tricky when viewing a video. The more complex a figure is, the more technique will be used to make it look smooth and effortless, so unless you already know these techniques, it may not be possible to see the subtleties of a technique like ‘body lead’ or dissociation on a video. Just copying the movement you see in the video will not guarantee you will be able to dance the figure with every partner.

So to find a tango video useful, it would imply you are not a beginner/improver and that you’ve already developed enough skills in leading/following to be able to super-impose that knowledge onto the choreography that you see.

Styling videos

There are a number of ladies styling videos out there which do show some elegant decorations, foot shaping, boleos etc., so yes ladies, you can pick up some hints and tips from these, but please remember that the dancer in the video is not being led. She knows what’s coming next!

In the real world a follower may not be given time to do the fancy footwork they want to try out, so they have to be prepared to take the next step at any given moment. You might want to try these adornments out in practise first, and possibly with a trusted leader who will give you time to complete them, so you can test out the difficulties in using them to different music, speeds etc.

So in conclusion, yes, it is possible to pick up new material from watching a video, but you would still have to test it out in a practica first to make sure you were leading/following correctly. Even if you did seem to be performing the movement correctly’, there is still a chance that you are not performing it in the most efficient/effective way.

This would imply seeking out a tango teacher who had the skills to teach you the ‘correct way’ of doing things.

However, please give them half a chance and show them the video you’re referring to rather than saying ‘it’s that one on the internet…’ πŸ™‚

How long does it take to learn tango?

Recently one of my new students asked this very reasonable question. However the answer is not easy to state. It’s a bit like asking how long is a piece of string. Even if you put some ‘way points’ in the question such as ‘how long does it take to become average/good/excellent…’ you are still left with defining what average/good/excellent means, or deciding who should make that definition.

However I thought I’d put my engineers mind to it and see if I could shed some light with my own experience, thoughts and opinion. I am not aware of any hard facts or research on ‘tango expertise’, but if anyone knows of such data let me know.

Let’s first look at the main components of the tango dance (in no particular order of importance);

  • Choreography – the walk, the classic figures, the ‘tango steps’ which would be recognisably tango to all tango dancers.
  • Technique – the dissociation, maintaining your own axis, the timing, foot shaping etc. The components recognisable by most tango dancers above beginners level, even if those dancers have not yet mastered them.
  • Musicality – stepping on the strong beat, decorating using the melody and so on. Again most dancers except new beginners would be aware of the possibilities of enhancing a dance with musicality, even if they were not yet adept.

To become expert at tango, we need to excel in all three of these areas at the very least.

There are also many other parameters which may influence how quickly we learn tango such as our own innate abilities, our teachers capabilities and so on, but lets stick to what is perhaps more easily judged for the ‘average’ new starter.

We then come onto defining levels of expertise. The words ‘beginner’, ‘improver’, ‘intermediate’, ‘advanced’, ‘professional’, ‘world champion’ etc. are used throughout the tango world to describe the level of a dancer, but what do they actually mean?

Well, apart from the obvious ones at the far ends of the spectrum (‘beginner’ and ‘world champion’) the others are a little more difficult to pin down.

Some tango schools classify by calendar duration. For example a beginner is someone who has danced less than 6 months, or an intermediate is someone dancing for a minimum of 2 years. In my experience this is a fairly blunt tool to define a persons actual capability. I’ve danced with people who ‘feel’ like they’ve been dancing a couple of years, to be told they’ve only been dancing 6 months (but taking 5 classes and attending a couple of milongas each week of those 6 months). Equally I’ve danced with people who ‘feel’ like they are beginners, to be told that they’ve been dancing tango ’10 years, on and off’. So the simple passage of calendar time is not necessarily a good measure of progress or capability.

There is a school of thought (and empirical research across many fields lends support) that to become an ‘expert’Β in any subject takes 10 years of deliberate practice, i.e. taking classes, practising with specific purpose, and performing while taking feedback.

This β€œ10 year rule” was first proposed based on research about the amount of deliberate practice it took for someone to become a chess master, but since then has been found to be fairly consistent across many subject areas. This translates into thousands of hours of effort expended for the sole purpose of mastering a craft or activity.

By age twenty the best violinists are estimated to have engaged in deliberate practice for at least 10,000 hours. Expert performers arrange their lives around a commitment to daily practice. For example, expert musicians have been found to engage in deliberate practice approximately four hours per day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

This would imply that if you go to a 1hr tango class once a week and do no more, it will take you 200 years to become expert! Equally it implies that if you work in a job where you spend 30-40 hours a week doing the same thing week in week out, then you would become an expert in about 6 years.

This makes sense, and explains why some people seem ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than they ‘should be’. If you put in a greater number of hours, regularly and consistently, you are more likely to be perceived as ‘better’, compared to someone doing a few hours here and there with many long gaps in between.

Varying the type of subject performance is also critical to achievement. You can go to as many tango classes and practise sessions as you like, but you may still feel out of your depth during your first social dance simply because the safe learning environment is different from the performance environment.

You can’t really know how good you are at any point in your learning until you put yourself to the test. This applies both in class (where you might eagerly volunteer to be the teachers demonstrator instead of hiding at the back), as well as at a social dance where, as nervous as you may feel, you just have to get up and do it.

The trick to dealing with the inevitable mistakes in both class and milonga is simply to use the mistake as a learning tool, always looking for the useful learning points. In that way you make progress even when things feel uncomfortable.

So if you’ve read this far and are thinking you might never be any good at tango and you might as well give it up, take heart, because as yet I haven’t discussed another important parameter, which is your own objectives in learning tango.

What do you want out of tango?

Some people only want to do enough to be able to mug along at some occasional tangoesque type event. Some people want to challenge themselves to see how good they can become, and of course some people may dream of being a national or international champion. These objectives require different levels of committent and determination.

So in a nut-shell:-

1. Unless you intend to enter the World Championships or perform on stage, you don’t need to be ‘expert’ at tango to enjoy social dancing, but in order to get lots of dances you need to be acknowledged as ‘reasonably good’ within your tango community, so some time and effort is required. Maybe not 10,000 hours, but certainly many hundreds to the odd thousand or so hours.

2. I believe that the act of learning the components of tango is something like the illustration below:

Learning Tango - an illustration of how long it might take

Before you all get up in arms about how ‘inaccurate’ this is, one should take it with a healthy dose of standard deviation, and your experience may well be different. This is based on my personal experience, what I observe of dancers around my community, and a smidgeon of thought and logical deduction. For example, why do the three parameters stop below the level of ‘World Champion’? Well, it’s my opinion that World Champions have some other harder to define ‘je ne se quoi’. It may be inspiration, or luck on the day, but it’s unlikely to be lack of technique, musicality or choreographic ability at that level.

So the chart shows that you may learn a fair bit of choreography reasonably quickly, but technique and musicality take longer. It also shows that the path to tango nirvana is never a straight smooth line. Sometimes you plateau and think you’ll never make further progress. That is the time to seek out input from someone much further along the curve.

3. If you want to compress the learning curve(s) then you need to do more work, more often and develop a commitment to deliberate practise each day, even if you can only manage 15 minutes instead of the 4 hours of experts. It should make a positive difference to your tango provided you’re practising how to become better, rather than just re-enforcing bad habits. In other words really listen to the advice your teachers give you, and practice the good stuff.

So how long does it take to learn tango? Well, first you need a find a piece of string… πŸ™‚

The Anatomy of the Tango Embrace

Rudolf Valentino in an embraceEl Abrazo – The Embrace. Even the name conjures up nice, warm, comfortable feelings πŸ™‚

It is an important aspect of Argentine tango. It is the channel through which a leader communicates intent, silently, with their partner. Many tango teachers and dancers will talk about ‘connection’. Sometimes they refer to the physical connection, and sometimes they will refer to being ‘in tune’ with your partner. It is a complex mix of physical, musical, and emotional elements. Get it right and you can achieve that sublime feeling when you feel fully in tune with your partner and at the end both agree that you had a ‘perfect’ dance.

However the embrace must still start with the physical connection, without which the non physical aspects are difficult if not impossible to achieve, so here are a few tips to enhance your embrace.

1. The embrace should be flexible and able to open/close as the dance dictates. Since the leader is creating the broad structure of the dance the decision to open/close the embrace will mainly be down to them.

  • A closed embrace is good for walking. The feedback between leader and follower is virtually instant.
  • An open embrace is good for figures where the legs need room to move.

In any given dance the embrace will be moving from closed to open and back again as the leader invites the follower to move.

2. When placing hands on followers back, or on leaders shoulder blades etc. it is useful to have a slight pressure there. In this way, when the leader stops moving the follower will feel slight extra pressure on her back and a slight extra pressure in her hand on leaders shoulder blade. When leader moves again it will be the other way round, a slight relief of pressure (in a walk for example). This will add one more avenue of feedback, as well as visual, and other body contact feedback.

3. No squeezing hard please! Leaders, do not grab your follower in a bear hug. They have to be able to breathe to dance. Followers, do not clamp the leaders arm tightly under yours especially in open embrace. This will restrict the leaders ability to lead and you will miss out on all that potential tango goodness.

4. Leaders, create a frame in which the follower is comfortable, but when necessary can move freely within the frame. When moving the frame, the arms and chest should be considered as one unit. If you rotate to one side or the other, the arms do not move independently of the chest (most of the time… there are always exceptions πŸ™‚ )

5. If you feel your connection is failing, then examine your embrace from a communications point of view. Every communication has a transmitter (the leader indicating intent), a communication medium (the embrace), and a receiver (the follower receiving the intent and responding correctly). A communication can fail if any of those elements break down, or even just stop performing at optimum.

The transmitter stops transmitting. This would equate to the leader not transmitting intent clearly enough. Note; ‘clearly’ does not mean forcibly. The leader is not trying to push or pull his partner into position. The leader can ‘invite without option’ by inviting the follower to step in one direction, but at the same time limiting the choice of other directions. If leaders master this technique they won’t need to pull or push.

The communications medium breaks down. In this case the embrace is not clearly transmitting the lead. This results in a lack of connection. It will more often happen in open embrace where the connection is by definition, less secure and more compromised, so leaders need to be as clear as possible, and followers need to use other senses and mechanisms for detecting the lead, more so than in close embrace.

The receiver stops receiving. The follower is not tuned in and is not receptive to the lead, even though it’s clear and the embrace is fine. In this case followers, it’s either time to wake up and tune in, or if you’re tired it’s time to stop dancing.

All of these things can happen sometime in a milonga, especially near the end after 4 or 5 hours dancing when everybody is pleasantly tired but no longer concentrating.

6. Once you have the physical connection in place you can then start to consider the musical connection. After all, you are both dancing to the same tune, and presumably hearing the same beats, melody, opportunities for syncopation, and so forth. To achieve this musical connection both dancers need to be familiar with the tune, and there is no easy way to make yourselves familiar with tango music except to listen to lots of it.

Once you both start really hearing and dancing to the tune, you will be able to add another layer onto your connection because a follower will be able to ‘anticipate’ (I know – not supposed to πŸ™‚ ) what a leader may be about to lead because of the musical phrase both dancers know is coming up next. The music tells both of you what to do! This may seem like anticipation but may simply be both dancers instinctively knowing ‘the most appropriate movement’ for that musical phrase, because of hundreds of hours dancing and listening to tango music.

7. Then we have the emotional connection. This is the hardest to achieve because emotions are personal to each dancer. This implies that to achieve an emotional connection one of you has to be perceptive, sympathetic, or empathetic to the others mood and be willing to give up your own emotional need in that time, in order to adopt a similar mood.

So to review Leaders must be skilled in how to lead the movement, and clearly transmit the intent. The embrace must be relaxed but firm enough to allow the physical movement of leading to be quickly picked up, and the follower must be attentive and tuned in (or as a bare minimum, awake πŸ™‚ ). You must both be really listening to the music, and for a dance with ’emotional cohesion’ you both must be roughly in the same mood.

It’s a lot to ask for, which is why we perhaps don’t have many (if any) ‘perfect’ dances in any single milonga, but when you get one… that’s what keeps you coming back for more πŸ™‚